This letter to the editor was published in the Goochland Gazette following Richmond Action Dialogue's co-hosting of the "Film and Dialogue on Racism and Prejudice":
We want to thank the over 50 participants at our first community “Film and Dialogue on Racism and Prejudice” for a successful event. Along with citizens, leaders from our Board of Supervisors, Board of Education, Fire Chief, an elementary school and the NAACP also attended. According to the feedback forms, many described it as “inspiring”, “glad I came”, and “everything I hoped for”. The facilitators used a special structure (www.conversationcafe.org) to create small group civil dialogues after the film. The dialogues were rated “excellent” and “very good” by almost everyone.
We talked about our responses to the film and our personal stories that reinforced or changed our thinking and behavior regarding racism and prejudice. We even discussed what it felt like to talk with strangers about these topics. At the end we shared in the large group any new insights we had and what we thought of the Conversation Cafe model of dialogue.
Two rewards for us were that almost everyone wanted to continue the series, and some citizens of Louisa County wanted to create a community dialogue there as well. We will provide a training for them and any others interested in facilitating future gatherings.
With gratitude from Richmond Action Dialogues for the opportunity to serve,
Jacquelyn Pogue, Margaret Reynolds, William Quarles, Teresa Olson, Delores Kimbrough, and Harris Diggs.
In this interview with the Goochland Gazette, Richmond Action Dialogue's director Jacquelyn Pogue explains why community dialogues are important.
Goochland Gazette: Why do you think it's important for the community to come together to discuss the topics of race and prejudice?
Jacquelyn Pogue: Each of us has an important contribution to make on these issues whether it is our personal story of an event, or the conclusions we've drawn. Speaking from the heart and listening with an open mind about diverse viewpoints and life's challenges creates an interaction that brings about a wisdom and deeper understanding of oneself, one another and the topic. This can be the beginning of a healing process that is necessary for real change to occur. The dialogue can also deepen our connection with the community by talking with local people that we've never had an opportunity to get to know.
In recent polls, a majority of white people now say our country needs to do more to make equal rights a reality, and substantially more say that blacks are treated less fairly than others by law enforcement officials. This is a significant shift. Among African- Americans a large majority has always said we need more changes, but now that percentage is up to a high of 86%.
In this age of tweets, texts and emails, we may feel a longing for meaningful conversations that go beyond exchanging information and opinions - conversations that educate, inspire and delight. Yet we may also be fearful of controversial topics because of bad experiences with talking about “the elephant in the room”. After facilitating innumerable groups I have found that people are amazed at how great the dialogue was for them. I think it is because the Conversation Cafe model provides trained facilitators and a safe structure for participants with guidelines that create a culture of civil dialogue. Through these respectful conversations we can discover shared values, common ground, and new ways of relating to one another, appreciating both our differences and our common humanity.
Participants were enriched through their experience in the recent dialogue event featuring the film Awake: The Life of Yognanda held at the Movieland Theater in Richmond, VA on December 15, 2014. Everyone commented how the dialogue really enhanced their film experience through the sharing in the community. Although the room size limited the conversation to 21 people, three conversation circles took place led by facilitators Greg Kelley, Donna Boone, and Jacquelyn Pogue. Also enriched by the experience, the facilitators plan to return on January 5 for the second screening of the film. For anyone interested in participating in the January dialogue, click here.
Also in December, Jacquelyn Pogue led a meditation for a VCU student group whose members identify themselves as being "spiritual but not religious". At another meeting with this group, she led a Conversation Cafe on "What does Service mean to you?" Future conversations such as this will take place in April in conjunction with a conference on spirituality and art.
Congratulations to one of our facilitators, Anita Kozakewicz, who presented a Conversation Café workshop at the Washington DC conference for the American Society on Aging. A number of participants (professionals for older adults) said how great it was and some said it was the best workshop of the 5 days with 3,000 attending. Thanks to Jane Dowrick, Director of University of Richmond's Osher Institute, who assisted her and has brought our training programs to Osher each semester.
A new product has been developed as a resource for dialogue facilitation called Group Works - A Pattern Language. It is a card deck (for $25. purchase or free download at www.groupworksdeck.org) to bring life to meetings and group work. The cards are divided into 9 categories, each representing a group need that would be addressed by that pattern, examples: Intention, Context, Relationship, Flow, Creativity, Inquiry and Synthesis.
Salim Elias, a participant in last year's VCU Summer Dialogue Program, has been selected as the representative from Iraq for the UNESCO Civil Society Project--Connecting Cultures. Eighteen Western and Arab students from 17 countries will partake in an Intercultural Dialogue Between Young People (17 - 24 year olds). This project, which started in London in 2004, will take place this year in Muscat, Oman, beginning on March 29th, and lasting for five days. In this high desert location, and without technology, the students will share their stories and secrets on a mutual journey of trust and cooperation.
Richmond, Virginia, 2012 - Amanda Davis, Special Programs Coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), and Richmond Action Dialogues (RAD) along with the Dialogue Forum at VCU, are putting together another exciting multiple-session summer program for a group of students visiting from Iraq. Trained facilitators from RAD and student interns from VCU will facilitate dialogue on various topics. Training sessions include Conversation Cafe and Difficult/Conflict Dialogue. The program will culminated in a sharing of the process with youth at the Peter Paul Center who will have the opportunity to participate in Conversation Café for Youth to be led jointly by the visiting Iraqi students and VCU interns.
Richmond, Virginia, Summer 2011 - Richmond Action Dialogues worked with groups at VCU to provide a stimulating program for students visiting from Iraq. Read all about it here. Here are photos of the Conversation Cafe hosted by the Iraqi students for the youth at the Peter Paul Center.
In March 2010, community organizations in Goochland County hosted a viewing and dialogue of the film: "Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance". Read an article about this dialogue event.
Across this country I find a longing for dialogue reflecting on where we've been, where we are now and where we may be going. Whatever they do, wherever they live, whatever their interests, people feel a need to take a moment and determine where this great nation is going in the 21st century.
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